As you should know by now, our attention has now shifted to the 2016 NFL Draft as it relates to the prospects. From now until the draft takes place, we hope to profile as many draft prospects as we possibly can for you. Most of these player profiles will be centered around prospects the Pittsburgh Steelers are likely to have interest in.
Breakdown of Boston College safety Justin Simmons.
#27, Justin Simmons — Safety, Boston College, 6’2”, 202 Lbs., Senior
-Quick, smooth transition in change of direction
-Great range in zone coverage as single-high safety
-Solid open-field tackler
-Does a good job of consistently coming in under control to break down to make tackle
-Long strides allow him to close ground to ball carrier from safety position
-Good hand-eye coordination to make plays on the ball
-Ideal size and length for position
-Experienced player coming out of BC
-Effective in “Robber” role when called upon
-Diagnoses routes quickly, very smart football player
-Experience at cornerback (seven starts) and as a gunner on punts
-Limited athlete for position
-Struggles to click-and-close quickly in coverage
-Poor technique in man-coverage, struggles to mirror quicker opponents
-Stiff lower body, tends to play high in backpedal with a lot of weight on heels
-Prone to taking bad angles to ball carrier in open field
-Susceptible to biting on play-action and pump fakes
-Not an overly physical safety
-Played in 45 career games at Boston College
-Named Second Team All-ACC in 2015
-Recorded five interceptions this past season
-Ran a 4.6 40-yard dash and recorded a vertical leap of 40 inches at NFL Combine
An experienced starter for the Boston College Eagles, safety Justin Simmons is a standout player for a doormat football program.
That’s not saying that he’s good simply because the rest of the team around him is poor, but his production through four years as a member of one of the better defenses in the country is astounding.
Add into the mix the fact that Simmons has experience as a cornerback as well and it makes him that much more intriguing for teams needing secondary help heading into the 2016 NFL Draft.
On tape, Simmons isn’t a flashy player by any means, and that’s completely okay. He’s a very sound football player that consistently makes the right plays, putting the rest of the defensive unit in the best possible positions to succeed.
Looking at Simmons the player, let’s start out by looking at him in coverage.
Despite having experience as a corner during his time at BC, Simmons’ backpedal needs tons of work, as it is largely a mess.
Take a look at this clip against Florida State this past season.
Simmons is very high in his backpedal and his footwork is very rough. By that, I mean that is just isn’t smooth for a guy who has experience as a cornerback.
The Eagles’ senior also described his footwork in an interview with USA Today’s Jon Ledyard as “clunky” in man coverage, which I think is a great term to describe what we see here.
What I do like about this play is how quickly Simmons is able to transition into his change of direction. There’s no wasted movement here and he does a good job of planting and going to try and close down the space between him and the receiver.
While Simmons struggles in man coverage, he’s a very good defender in deep zone coverage where he is allowed to read-and-react to what he’s seeing.
On top of that, he has great range in the deep zone, which allows him to cover sideline to sideline very well.
Take a look at these two clips; one against Clemson and one against Notre Dame.
On the first clip against Clemson, Simmons is lined up in a single-high safety look with deep responsibility.
At the snap, Simmons reads DeShaun Watson’s eyes, locating the slot receiver streaking down the seam. Watson never takes his eyes off of the receiver and floats this ball up the seam.
Simmons, who is lined up on the right hash mark, is able to come all the way across the field to make the play, showcasing great ball skills.
Against Notre Dame later in the year, Simmons shows similar range to make a sliding interception on a poorly thrown ball by DeShone Kizer in the middle of the field.
Although he’s not overly fast and won’t “wow” you as an athlete, Simmons is an instinctive athlete who is seemingly always in the right position.
Outside of his coverage abilities, I really like the way Simmons tackles in the open field. Lately, you see too many safeties that come flying up from their position to try and make tackles by diving at ankles using the fly-by technique.
Not Simmons. The standout senior comes flying in, but he is consistently in control and breaks down to use his long arms to wrap up the ball carrier for sound tackles. Just this past season Simmons didn’t allow a single broken tackle and had just four missed tackles overall.
Take a look at these two clips from this past season, one of which is against Clemson and the other is against Notre Dame.
In the first clip against Clemson, Simmons has outside responsibility on the run and does a good job of finding Wayne Gallman, who bursts outside looking to turn it up field. However, Simmons does a good job of stretching out the run and then breaks down to make a good tackle instead of just diving at Gallman’s legs hoping he’ll fall down.
By utilizing his long reach, Simmons is able to get his hands on people to lock them up and bring them down for tackles.
He does a similar thing here against Notre Dame. Coming up from his deep safety position, Simmons does a good job of closing ground quickly without getting out of control.
From there, once Simmons is close to the ball carrier, he breaks down to get into a good tackling position and then wraps up the opponent’s legs for the open field tackle.
Although he isn’t a very physical safety, he makes up for that in a big way by just making the smart, simple plays.
One major issue I do have with Simmons is his propensity to get caught biting on ball fakes, which could be a serious issue for him at the next level against pro-style offenses.
On this clip against Clemson, Simmons is in perfect position to make the play on the scrambling Watson, but a quick pump-fake from Watson to the waiting receiver on the bubble screen completely discombobulates Simmons, who gets turned around on the play and starts running away from Watson.
I am sure Simmons wished this didn’t show up on tape, but it does. At the next level he needs the coaching staff to work with him on being patience and reading what his eyes see with these ball fakes.
Fortunately for him, he won’t feel the need to have to make every single tackle in the secondary like he did for Boston College.
With the right zone-heavy system and the proper coaching, Simmons could carve out a long career in the NFL. It won’t be flashy and it might not lead to many individual accolades, but having a smart, sound player like him in your secondary is a nice foundational piece to have.
Games Watched: vs. Florida State (’15), at Clemson (’15), vs. North Carolina State (’15), vs. Notre Dame (Shamrock Series at Fenway Park, ’15)